Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Beers of the year - Nelly

Better late than never, here's my verdict for beers of the year 2013. As most of my drinking gets done at home, I'll do a top 3 for bottled beer and a "special category" for best beer from out and about.

Bottled Beer:

3rd - Thornbridge Jaipur
As Chris rightly said, this is the beer that started it for us. It has a superb hop aroma that I find is still rarely surpassed but best of all, it's quite obtainable, being sold in Waitrose. Jaipur will be responsible for introducing many, many people to craft beer and for that, I'll always doff my cap to it.

2nd - Marble Lagonda IPA
I'm very partial to a big, hoppy IPA and Lagonda is one of the best. It's good enough to come straight out of the fridge and still retain a beautiful complex taste and aroma. A little darker than Jaipur, it has a more rounded, interesting taste and a big, citrusy bouquet.

1st - Fyne Ales Jarl
I'll be quite honest - I only bought this because it was voted best golden ale at the Champion Beer of Britain awards. I'm glad I did jump on that particular bandwagon though, because it was superb. Jarl is not a strong beer, nor does it assault your senses with a big American hop profile. What it does do, is set the standard for what a great golden summer ale should be. Pale, grapefuity and light, it almost bounces down your neck with carefree abandon. Hell, it would probably get your wallet out for the next round if it could. Really marvellous stuff and my bottled beer of the year.

Out and about:

Magic Rock High Wire
2013 was the year I discovered craft beer and it was also the year Magic Rock nearly drove me mad. Very early on in my Beer Adventure, I read great things about this fledgling brewery from Huddersfield. It was unanimous - everyone agreed that MR make liquid gold and High Wire was the best of them all.

Only, you can't have any because nowhere sells it. I trawled the beer shops of Manchester and Cheshire looking for a bottle and there were none. Their own website had no stock and even the online beer suppliers seemed to have run out. Yet their website suggested vast quantities of the stuff being made. I came to the conclusion that they just don't like to see it leaving Yorkshire. Either that, or they operate the Eric Cartman "You Can't Have Any" sales strategy.

I think the real answer is that there's so much demand for their produce on draft that they just don't have the capacity to do much bottling. It was months before I finally managed to track down some MR on keg at the Young Pretender in Congleton. It was Cannonball, their 7.4% IPA. I won't go on about it, suffice to say it was insanely good.

I had to wait until IMBC in October to get myself outside some High Wire and boy, was it worth the wait. I love American pale ales and this is the best of the bunch by a big margin. I suspect a better APA can only be found by actually getting on a plane and heading West.

Worst Beer of the Year

I have to pick two beers here, for different reasons. First up is Tetleys Original, which was just amazingly flat and malty, but then I wasn't exactly expecting great things. The biggest disappointment for me was Thwaites Old Dan, which I thought was going to be so much better. I found it to be heavy and quite hard work. It also seemed to leave a sticky residue on the lips after each mouthful, like there was quite a bit of sugar left behind.

Lesson of the year

Drink 'em young. I bought a fresh bottle of St. Austell Big Job in the Summer and it was great - fresh and hoppy. A bottle from the same batch several months later was quite a disappointment though, with virtually no hop aroma left.

So what will 2014 bring? It'll certainly bring more homebrewing, that's for sure.
My esteemed colleague Chris and I have got a few lads' weekends planned as well, so there may even be some joint blogging. Should be fun.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

West Berkshire - Santa's Tipple

"Novelty" is often a perjorative word indicating a lack of quality - you don't hear the words "Novelty Hit" and expect to hear a blinding work of unparalleled musical genius.

And so it was with a heavy heart I picked up a bottle of West Berkshire's "Santa's Tipple" for £1.53. 

Guess what? It's really rather nice. Toffee flavoured, heavy, good blasts of hops and malts, and somehow redolent of Christmas (it may be subliminal). I really enjoyed it...get it while it's cheap. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Blindman's Buff

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but I clocked this funky bottle in my bored garden centre trawl the other day and thought "what the hell, that looks interesting".

Poured well, nice gold colour...and it was pretty tasty actually, without being particularly interesting. It went down very well (but I'd had a long day), with a light hops (needs more hops, actually) taste, with elements of fruit and berries (but not enough). 

It was fine; not as exciting as one might have deduced from the label, mind.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Jennings - Cumberland Ale

Spare a thought for my poor mate Rog. At the weekend he was out for a blast through the Hertfordshire countryside on his trusty road bike when he came upon a patch of black ice...he's currently laid up in Welwyn Hospital having had his broken femur screwed together.

Cycling aside, Rog has two main loves in life (well, three, but this isn't the website to talk about the other stuff) - beer, and saving money. So tonight's update is dedicated to Roger, and in his spirit, pay heed to this Jenning's Cumberland Ale:

As a teenager I would spend a week each summer at Bassenthwaite Lake with my pals, ostensibly to sail in their annual regatta, but really in order to drink vast amounts of booze. The local sailing club served Jennings Bitter, which I'd guess was about all the Cockermouth brewery produced in those days - now there's a full range of ales and many seasonal brews alongside. But hey, bitter's much trendier now...and Jennings is owned by Marstons, rather than the one-man-and-his-sheepdog I expect it was in 1991 (subs - check this).

Anyway. This particular bottle is being sold at Lidl for a whopping £1.29, which is even less than I was paying for a pint in 1991. Rog loves a bargain; he needs to get down to his local German discount supermarket.

But as we've seen before, cheap beer does not necessarily equal good beer. Would this brew cheer up Rog from his broken-legged misery? 

Well, yeah - I mean it's not amazing, but it's well balanced, malty without being overbearing, floral and fruity and rather bitter. It's nothing special, but at £1.29 you really can't grumble.

Even with a shattered femur.

Get well soon, Rog.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Abbey - Bellringer

I didn't really have high hopes for this - I wasn't aware of the brewery, I bought it from the garden centre while bored on a Saturday afternoon - so I was quite surprised when it turned out to be quite reasonable. Gently hoppy, with a biscuity malt, and hints of bread and soap (er, in a good way), and a nice, bitter finish; a rather summery golden ale that still went down well on a dank Tuesday in January.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Beers of the Year - Chris

I've always been a bandwagon jumper, and as everyone else is banging on about the best bits of 2013 it would be remiss of me to do otherwise.

So here's my top three beers of the year:

3rd - Quercus Smoked Oak Porter

This was a real surprise as I wasn't expecting anything great from porter, and wouldn't normally touch it with a bargepole. It was delicious, hugely complex, and only £1.50 a bottle...and I've not seen it since. Yum.

2nd - Hawkshead Windermere

Another one I didn't expect much of, but this was sensational (and also £1.50!!!). And again, I've not seen it since. Gah.

1st and BEER OF THE YEAR - Thornbridge Jaipur

The beer that started this all, really. Nelly and I had a weekend away (er. not like that) in the summer and he turned up with a box of this stuff, and banged on all weekend about how ace it was. I must say I didn't really appreciate it at the time, but when I got my own bottles and sampled them in the studious solitude of my home, I was blown away...and took a box with me on holiday. So, so good.

Pint of the year

As opposed to bottle of the year, y'see...well for me it's MEANTIME at the Hermitage, Hitchin. A great venue, and personally an eye-opener as to the superb quality available on keg these days. Keep challenging them preconceptions!

Happy new year all - and here's to some quality ales in 2014.

Blue Moon at the Bollo, Chiswick

Christmas Day found me at a pub which fifteen years ago was my old stamping ground - the Bollo in Chiswick (although in my day it was called the Orange Kipper). Back then it was a slightly scuzzy boozer with a massive telly showing England getting battered by the West Indies; I celebrated my 23rd birthday there by  chucking up outside. Happy days.

These days it's gone all gastro-pub, as have so many London boozers (it's that or become flats, I guess). This means they can charge £4 a pint minimum and sell overpriced burgers on "distressed" furniture.

I don't really mind gastropubs, when the food's decent and the beer's good too - I like to eat well in an informal setting, so what's the problem?

The problem is when the beer's bobbins. I kicked off (and I'm writing this a week later, so forgive me as my notes seem to have disappeared) with a pale ale - it was called something like "Hoptease", so I was quite hopeful...but it wasn't great.

Given my writing partner's propensity towards American craft ales, I next went for a pint of Blue Moon from the keg. I was hopeful after my positive Meantime experience for something special, but I was a little wary once an orange segment was deposited into my wheaty pint:

Given its cloudiness, I was wondering if it was something along the lines of an ale version of Hoegaarden. I was to be bitterly disappointed; it was overly tart and the citrus was overbearing (not helped by the floating clementine), with a skanky, cheap-lager aftertaste. I could barely finish it.

Turned out, on research, that the, er, "Blue Moon Craft Brewery" is actually Coors; this is about as much a traditional craft ale as the Bollo is a traditional London boozer. Avoid.